Beautiful and Minimal: A Travel Guide to Magic Mountain, Vermont

Pure Magic. Magic Mountain, Vermont is a New England throwback to what you love about skiing and riding with no frills and affordable experiences. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Johnson/@RyanJohnson_1

A mint on your pillow is nice. And a crafted hot drink by a gas fire pit, a high speed gondola, a cute faux village and a mountain boutique that sells fashionable microfleece Anoraks are all very pleasant … But they’re expensive.

When your main concern is whipping through the trees or running wide open on groomers with light crowds, all the niceties of a mountain resort cut into your shred budget.

Magic Mountain, in Southern Vermont seeks to bring the New England soul back to skiing and snowboarding, a vibe that goes back to why you got into riding in the first place – and retro prices to go along with it.

“We’re not for everybody. But if we are for you, we’re perfect,” Vince Presciti, the manager of the Upper Pass Lodge at Magic Mountain tells ASN. (And he’s talking about the Lodge, which is owned independently of the resort, but the statement holds true for both.)

Magic Mountain is the epitome of “East Coast Cheep and Steep,” a challenging New England hill that is bare bones, and therefore affordable for just about anyone.

Dawn patrol at Magic Mountain. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Johnson/@RyanJohnson_1

We recently headed up for a Thursday and Friday of riding and pretty much had the whole mountain to ourselves. The resort actually closes Monday through Wednesday and there was barely a soul around on this Thursday morning with 48 trails open.

Skiing and – to a lesser extent – snowboarding, have long been associated with wealth. Some resorts today are pushing up to $200 for a weekend single day pass. And if that wasn’t expensive enough, they’re in remote regions, which means they can charge pretty much whatever they want for food, lodging, and entertainment.

A luxury chalet with access to a powder-filled bowl is a great vacation, but sometimes it’s about riding as much as we can, and not the amenities. A full-day ticket at Magic is just $74. Four of us drove up on a Wednesday and got the two-day ski-and-stay package at the Upper Pass Lodge for $405. That’s about $100 per person to stay two nights and ride two days. Rolling with a crew of four is the best bang for your buck, but the single deal is $135, double is $235 and triple is $320.

The weekend package is expectedly higher, but a couple can stay two nights and ride Saturday and Sunday for $588. There are also Magic web deals where they will have a number of deep discount tickets for a particular day that you can buy online for as low as $30/weekday and $50/weekend. Talk about retro.

Matt Higgins on an empty, sunny Friday morning at Magic. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Johnson/@RyanJohnson_1

If you’re simply focused on snow, Magic is is as simple as it gets for the true rider. In 1960 Swiss-born Ski Instructor, Hans Thorner, founded Magic Mountain. It was a sizzling-hot party spot through the ’80s but closed down in the early ’90s. It reopened in the mid ’90s and remains independently owned. Their no-frills experience keeps the focus on the riding.

Magic has a vertical of 1,500 feet with some steeps and long, fast groomers. Twenty six percent of the trails are expert. There are woods and fun natural features, not to mention the stunning view of the Green Mountains. (On a clear day you can see Stratton and Bromley.) And when winter storms blow through, Magic simply gets magical.

You do want to catch Magic on a good week of natural snow though. One of the “frills” that the bigger operations offer is more complete snowmaking. Snowmaking is expensive, and Magic is not. Also, the lifts are doubles and not high speed. But when you’re riding alone for the most part, it’s a fair trade off.

Perhaps nothing is as uniquely Magic as their “Uphill Policy.” Since the mountain is closed Monday through Wednesday, anyone is welcomed to hike up, even with a leashed dog. There’s a designated trail for snowshoes and splitboards. The true adventurer can hike up and shred (with no one around) for free.

Hiking is also permitted when the mountain is open (there are some guidelines to follow) and if you reach the summit, you are given a token redeemable for one free ride on the lift – Earn your turns, for real.

No frills, just classic Vermont style at the Upper Pass Lodge. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Johnson/@RyanJohnson_1

The Upper Pass Lodge is much like the resort infrastructure itself: just the basics. The walls are thin enough to hear your neighbor’s alarm and the TV is from 1996. But none of that really matters. It’s warm and clean with free internet, hot coffee and warm muffins each morning.

It’s a three-minute walk to the lift and each night they start a roaring fire for guests. The bar/restaurant at Upper Pass, the Red Slate, only serves beer, wine and spirits that are made in Vermont, another cool little quirk. The kitchen offers a fun and very affordable menu.

Thursday morning’s temp was a goose egg when we woke up, but the wind was light. Since the mountain had been closed for a few days, there were still a few stashes of snow from Monday’s dump. The hill was as uncrowded as any I have ever ridden and by the end of the day, there was literally no one else around with a light snow falling. The only thing that was missing was a few laps through the park, which was closed both Thursday and Friday.

If you want a raging party, go somewhere else, the Black Line Tavern is just good pub food and music. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Johnson/@RyanJohnson_1

Thursday evening, we sat by the comfortable fire of the Upper Pass as an older crowd filled the bar room. We took the approximately one minute walk to the Black Line Tavern at the base of the mountain. It was “locals night” and the already affordable pub fare was even further discounted. A hot bowl of veggie chili was $9. My gilled gruyere cheese on jalepeno cornbread with fries filled my tank for $12. It’s a simple menu of burgers, fish n’ chips, pasta, and ribs (with rotating specials).

In the town of Londonderry, you’ve got the old school Maple Leaf Diner. There are some really cool spots in the village, as well, but they are a bit more spendy. The Garden Café and Gallery is an art gallery/restaurant that does dinner and brunch, while SoLo does a nice farm-to-fork thing. Both spots are about $25-$35 per entrée.

If you’re looking for nightlife, well that’s one of those “frills” that Magic isn’t known for, although the Black Line has acts come through on weekends. Tribute bands like Badfish and Back in Black played this season.

Hot food at the end of a cold day. The Black Line Tavern will fill your belly for a good price. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Johnson/@RyanJohnson_1

The nearby resorts are more party towns, which wasn’t really an issue for us. I think we were knocked out by 9:30 p.m. Thursday night, and up for a full day again on Friday. The sun stayed out all day, softening up the runs and there was still no one around. The longest we waited for a chair in the afternoon was thirty seconds. We rode until our legs were nothing, fist bumped the locals we met, and were back to our beach town that night.

Who needs an $9 venti Frappuccino when there’s an empty mountain to explore?

Jesse Westmacott, deep into his morning run. Magic is generally closed for a few days a week, so Monday’s snow was still ripple on Friday. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Johnson/@RyanJohnson_1

All Photos Courtesy of Ryan Johnson.

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